Our Jewish Preschool Challenge

February 25, 2013

Source: Jewish Daily Forward


A Daily Forward editorial echoes President Obama's State of the Union Message call to enroll every US 4-year-old in school, by asking: How do we make Jewish early childhood education excellent and affordable for Jewish families? Quality Jewish preschool not only can build a healthy foundation for lifelong Jewish learning, it helps bring young Jewish families into the fold, creating friendships and shared experiences that, in turn, create community.


They write:

"But have you seen how much it costs? That’s actually not an easy question to answer. The Forward called more than a dozen Jewish preschools in New York City, inquiring about annual tuition costs, and barely received a civil reply, perhaps because the numbers might strike ordinary parents as fantastical. We were able to find out that a couple of schools charge around $15,000 a year just for a three-and-a-half hour morning class. A full day can cost as much as $22,000 — and that doesn’t include extra charges for lunch, security guards and yoga…


With this kind of daunting price tag, it’s no wonder that many parents opt for less expensive, secular alternatives.


If cost is an issue, there are, fortunately, creative initiatives to address this problem. In Chicago, the Jewish United Fund has established a gift voucher — which it says is the first of its kind in the nation — that will offset the cost of Jewish preschool or day care for the first child in the family. The tuition reimbursement is not based on need; rather, it depends on how many days a child is in school. Two days a week, the voucher amounts to $500. Five days a week, $2,000. There are options in between, a clever way to cater to a family’s choice.


Another model seeks to incentivize families to think of preschool as a stepping stone to day school. The San Diego Jewish Academy has a tuition loyalty plan that promises a 25% tuition discount in day school for every year a child attends its preschool….


Besides affordability, the other goal here is excellence. Mounds of research point to how essential strong teaching is to the success of the early education experience. To that end, it’s a welcome sign that the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — a Conservative and Reform seminary, respectively — are teaming up to offer a post-graduate course of study designed to enhance teacher quality.


Affordable, high-quality early childhood Jewish education brings enormous long-term value to our families and our community. Just as universal education for 4-year-olds is now a national goal, so should its counterpart be a communal goal. But it will be up to all the stakeholders — funders, educators and parents alike — to make it happen."


See the entire editorial at the Forward's website.

Updated: Mar. 11, 2013